STATEWIDE – The fate of the toll and PATH train fare increases proposed by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey now rests with the agency’s Board of Commissioners after a day of public hearings.
The Port Authority held nine public hearings throughout New Jersey and New York yesterday to give commuters and other members of the public an opportunity to weigh in on the hikes that could raise PATH fares and Hudson River tolls by 65 percent. Most of these hearings pitted union workers, who support the increases, against commuters, who largely oppose them.
Under the proposed increases, a one-way PATH ride would jump from $1.75 to $2.75 later this year. The 30-day unlimited fare card would be $89. Currently the 30-day unlimited fare is $54.
EZ Pass tolls paid by auto drivers who use the Holland and Lincoln tunnels would jump from the current $8 to $12, round-trip, during morning and evening rush hours. Off-peak toll prices would increase from $6 to $10, round-trip. Under the Port Authority proposal peak and of-peak tolls would in crease by an additional $2 in 2014.
Auto drivers who pay their tolls in cash would see even steeper increases, as would truck drivers.
Hudson County commuters, many of whom work in New York City, would be among those hardest hit by the increases if they are approved in their current form. The increases also come on top of fare increases last year imposed by NJ Transit and recent far hikes in New York City.
Many New Jersey residents must use multiple mass transit systems to get to and from work each day.
At one hearing, held Tuesday evening at the Holland Tunnel Administration Building in Jersey City, vanloads of construction union workers were driven in to express their support for the proposed increases. Arguing that many of their colleagues have gone months without work, members of LiUNA! spoke out in favor of the increases and the estimated 180,000 infrastructure jobs that will be created from the increased revenue.
One union worker, Carlton Hill, said at the hearing, “Right now, I’m lucky if I get one day of work a week. And I don’t get any benefits.”
Hill added that he knows other construction union workers who haven’t had a job in nine months or longer.
But several Hudson County residents said Tuesday night the increases would have a significant impact on commuters who are already struggling to make ends meet.
“Yes, jobs will be created [from the fare and toll increases]. But you also have to look at the jobs that will be lost,” said Weehawken resident Seth Huling.
Noting that he has to use multiple transit systems to get and from his job in New York each day, including the PATH train, Huling said the fare increase will leave commuters with less disposable income to spend on other necessities. He predicted the increases would have a ripple effect throughout the economy that would affect restaurants, dry cleaners, coffee shops, and other small businesses.
Other commuters, said Huling, wouldn’t be able to afford to get to work at all.
Elizabeth Cronk, who owns a small business in Secaucus and frequently drives into New York, said the increased toll costs would have a devastating affect on her ability to stay afloat, and would hurt her “ability to save money for retirement as a self-employer person.”
Another small business owner said such companies could be forced to lay-off employees if travel expenses begin to erode thin profit margins.
Jersey City Mayor Jerramiah T. Healy, who attended the Tuesday evening hearing and who made a statement to the Port Authority, agreed the increases would hurt northern New Jersey’s local economy. This, he said, would cause Jersey City to lose its competitive edge over New York.
The Port Authority’s Board of Commissioners is currently scheduled to vote on the fare increase plan this Friday.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who have jointly opposed the fare and toll increases, have the authority to veto the board’s decision. It’s widely believed the two men will force the Port Authority to revise its budget and impose smaller increases. – E. Assata Wright